Dogfight over March Field in 1933 was maybe just an early UFO sighting

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No one living locally in 1942 could forget the night when Japanese aircraft attacked Southern California in the “Battle of Los Angeles.”

More than 1,400 anti-aircraft rounds were fired at marauding planes the night of Feb. 25, every one missing their targets. The invading “planes” turned out to be just so much thin air – the panicked firing caused by edgy military and civilians fearful of a Japanese attack. And once the shooting started, it was hard to hold them back.

What is far less remembered – in fact, forgotten completely – was the night in 1933 when two Army planes shot down a Japanese aircraft believed to be photographing Riverside’s March Field – today’s March Air Reserve Base.

In truth, looking back at this event – almost nine years to the day before the “Battle of Los Angeles” – you might figure it may have been our first UFO sighting.

Somebody – we never knew who – saw something somewhere between March Field and Lake Elsinore one night and immediately got on their party line to raise the alarm. Word spread quickly, undoubtedly getting more menacing and preposterous each time it passed from caller to caller.

But despite the magnitude of these reports, what happened just never happened.

The account of this air battle was published on the front page of the Elsinore Leader-Press at Lake Elsinore on Feb. 23, 1933. The paper called it “Fantastic tales of a Japanese plane being shot down over Elsinore after the asserted Nippon airman had attempted to take aerial views of March Field.” The article also included adamant denials by Army officials that nothing of that sort happened.

The tale claimed a Japanese plane was seen taking photos over the field that night. That should have been the first clue about the unlikely nature of the sighting. Who knew what a Japanese plane looked like in 1933, and besides how could someone on the ground determine what a pilot was really doing that night?

The report also said that two Army planes shot down the plane, killing the pilot. But no wreckage was ever found, and the Army said no March Field planes were sent for such a purpose.

The newspaper quoted a spokesman for the military: “It is just another of the lies that do nothing but cause hard feelings between two great nations.” The military also pointed out how foolish it would be for any nation to pull such a stunt, which would have serious diplomatic repercussions.

After things quieted down, March Field two months later found itself highlighted in a Los Angeles Times article: “Flyers ‘Bomb’ March Field, Enemy Planes Penetrate Defense in Raid.” This May 16 story detailed war games being held there.

Imagine if this happened today – social media conspiracy theories would spread faster than a speeding bullet claiming the suspicious scheduling of the war games so close to the Feb. 25 “incident” would prove that shooting down the Japanese plane probably really happened. You just never know.

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